I'm an extrovert. I’m energized by groups. I love events, concerts, and the buzz of a large crowd (within reason). I love the hum of a full restaurant on a Friday night and the energy pouring out of people like the wine into their glasses. I love nights of squeezing too many people on the sofa with drinks and snacks and good conversation. I love people coming together: to celebrate, to dance, to be joyful.
But as much as I love all these aforementioned things, I’ve grown to really love solitude more and more over the years.
I’m in Colorado for the week. I contemplated calling some of my friends to grab lunch or go shopping in Denver when I landed today. There’s never a shortage of things to do while I’m out here, and my schedule usually fills up before my trip even begins.
But instead I opted to hop in the Subaru and drive north for an hour or two up to Estes Park.
My grandparents took my dad and his sisters camping here when they were growing up. We came for a huge family vacation with everyone from both sides when I was little. It’s where my little brother took his first steps. It’s my first memory I can remember of being in the mountains. But I haven’t been back in over 20 years (which makes me feel really old to say), so I took some time to rediscover the beauty this place has to offer.
I did some shopping downtown, visiting the taffy store where my grandfather would always load up on cinnamon salt water taffy. I scored some beautiful woven blankets from a local Native American shop. I sat outside scoping the Rockies while I ate fresh trout that had been caught that morning. And then I decided it was time to head up into the mountains and hike.
I asked a frail older woman working at the register of one of the shops if she could recommend someplace that wasn’t too far away that would be a scenic hike. She pointed me to Gem Lake but warned me that it was a really easy trail so if I wanted a challenge it would disappoint. "But the scenery is beautiful, so that much will be nice.” There were some thick rainclouds starting to form and I thought a shorter, easy hike may be better anyway.
I don’t know what kind of steroids Granny is on, but that trail is NOT easy. I'd like to think I'm in pretty good shape, but half a mile into my trek I was already gasping for air and breaking for water. About this time it started to sprinkle and I still had over a mile and a half left before I reached the top (not to mention the trip back down.)
I almost turned around. I was alone and I hadn’t seen any other solo hikers. Everyone that I sporadically passed was with their family or friends or significant other. “Get out of your own head, Whitney” I told myself. "Tons of people hike alone". Moments later I heard two families chatting about a bear sighting earlier that day. I instantly thought of my dad repeating a thousand times to NEVER hike without bear spray when we were in Jackson Hole last summer. Pretty soon I was creating news stories in my head about my abduction, or how I'd gone missing because I’d gotten lost, or how I’d tragically been slaughtered by a bear.
I managed to quiet the annoying scaredy-cat voices in my head and press on. As I reached one of the first scenic overlooks, I was instantly grateful I hadn’t turned back. It was breathtaking. I saw an older couple approaching and asked if they’d mind taking a picture for me. The woman kindly obliged. As she handed the camera back to me she said “I’m sorry that you’re out here all by yourself.” The tone of her voice was kind but also sympathetic. You could tell she genuinely felt bad for me. I couldn't decide if I should be offended by her comment. I opened my mouth to say thanks but instead, blurted out “I’m not.” She smiled, now seeming more impressed than she was sorry (and frankly, so was I). But I realized that I meant it.
Why would I be sorry that I’m by myself? This was my choice. This was what I wanted to be doing. I have the day off and am in one of the most scenic places on earth, dammit. I’m lucky to be in my shoes.
Yes, I was alone. But I liked it in this context. You could say that’s a theme of the season of life that I’m currently in. It's a season of solitude- and that my friends, is very different than loneliness.
Loneliness is accompanied by a feeling of emptiness (and typically, it stems from a place of feeling inadequate). Loneliness doesn't just have to be felt when you're alone. It can be when you’re in a huge crowd, a close circle of friends, or even being intimate with someone. You can have a smile on your face and appear to be perfectly happy and still feel incredibly lonely.
But solitude does not equal loneliness. Solitude is a good thing- and it’s often a choice. It’s opting to be alone with yourself: to dream, to re-evaluate, to pray, to explore, and forgive me for sounding cliche- but to find yourself. Solitude restores us.
So today I marveled in solitude’s radiant glory, and I didn’t feel lonely for a second. Because how could I? I got to see some of God’s best work and most beautiful views. I got to take inventory of myself: How I’m feeling about my dreams. How I’m feeling about my friendships. How I’m feeling about the kind of person that I’m becoming.
It was restoring for my soul. Because while I’ve grown to genuinely enjoy and appreciate solitude, this season has been one that’s honestly become laughable at this point. There’s been moments that are more excruciating than I ever thought possible. Moments that feel like right when I catch my breath, I get the wind knocked out of me again. It's not all warm, fuzzy stories of overcoming and growing and rainbows.
Forgive me, but I’m about to make a cliché metaphor about this hike I was on, and how it parallels to my current journey in life. I have to do it- so deal with it. Because every time I saw a scenic spot, part of me considered saying "Good enough" and calling it quits. But I continued to climb. This decision prolonged the time that I spent alone. It made me more tired and more worn out. But every time that I did, I was always greeted with another view that outdid the last one. And I'm learning that's the case with life too. We can stay stuck in our current circumstances and deal with where we are, thinking it'll be good enough. Or we can keep going. Even when we're tired. Even when we're alone. Even when it would be way easier to stop. And when we do continue, there is always a payoff. There's always glory that's revealed to us.
As I finally sat victoriously on the highest peak of the climb, I randomly flipped my bible open and couldn’t help but smile at the first verse I coincidentally saw.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” - Romans 8:18
I’m starting to see the glimpses of glory in my life. Yeah, I keep getting thrown curve balls of more suffering that come out of nowhere and knock me right in the face. But the glory is there. It’s the glory that gives me strength to crave adventure and thrive when I’m by myself. To conquer loneliness because I know that I lack nothing. The glory that makes it impossible to miss God’s presence and power that’s working in my life. It’s the glory that causes me to be thankful for my solitude.
The coming weeks are already jam packed with moments of togetherness. I have dinner plans every night I’m here in Colorado. I have 4th of July parties to come home to before I leave a few days later for almost 2 weeks in Europe with my family. And as fun as all of those things are going to be, I’m so thankful for the time that I had alone with myself, and alone with God today. To be reminded that “alone” doesn't have to be a bad thing. That a season of solitude is a beautiful place to be. That it can make you more strong, more grateful, more adventurous and more hopeful than you ever thought possible.
So if you find yourself “alone”, I hope you can find solitude. That you can look at this season as one that’s a blessing, not a curse. That you won’t rush through it, or lament about how much you want to be somewhere else, but that you’ll use it to become the best version of yourself. Because in doing so, there’s going to be more glory revealed than you even know how to handle.